Aleix Espargaro

Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Riders Share Ideas For Making Racing Safer

It was inevitable that there would be a lot of talk at Austin of the events of a few days earlier, at Jerez. The death of Dean Berta Viñales in the first (and only) WorldSSP300 race at the Spanish track had once again raised the question of safety in motorcycle racing. Especially the safety in the support classes, where the technical rules had been set up to achieve as much parity as possible, creating very large groups on the race track. And especially in classes populated by sometimes very young riders.

How ironic, then, that some of such talk took place in the pre-event press conference in Austin, where a group of riders in the FIM MiniGP North America series were present. Kensei Matsudaira, age 10, Jesse Shedden, age 12, Jayden Fernandez, age 13, Kayla Yaakov, age 14, and Travis Horn, age 13, all got to sit and listen as the MotoGP riders were asked questions about how to prevent young kids from being killed in motorcycle races.

The FIM MiniGP series is one of the steps Dorna is putting in place in its Road to MotoGP initiative, aimed at stimulating racing talent at a regional and national level, before moving up on the path to World Championship level racing.

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Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An 'Ordinary' Marquez, Bagnaia's Blitz, And Ride-Height Devices Explained

Marc Marquez arrived at Aragon as the clear favorite to win. Based on his record – five wins from seven races, and crashing out of the lead in a sixth – and on the fact that this is a counterclockwise circuit, like the Sachsenring. Before the Sachsenring, Marquez had a seventh, a ninth, and three DNFs, but he went on to win the race in Germany with ease, despite still not being completely fit.

Marquez arrived at Aragon – his third most successful circuit - with a seventh place, an eighth, a fifteenth after a fall, and a first-lap crash with Jorge Martin. If the pattern is to repeat itself, then surely Marquez is on for another win at the Motorland Aragon circuit?

Two crashes on the first two days suggest that may be harder than we all thought. The first crash, on Friday, was a simple mistake of the kind that most riders make – picking the bike up a fraction to avoid running into the rear of his brother Alex' LCR Honda, getting onto the dirty part of the track, and sliding off, furious at his own foolishness.

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Aragon MototGP Friday Round Up: Hidden Pace, Silly Crashes, Fast Ducatis, And Maverick's Debut

With 21 riders covered by less than 1.3 seconds at a track over 5 km long, it is hard to pick a winner after Friday. Take Jack Miller's stellar lap out of the equation, and it's even closer: the gap between Aleix Espargaro in second place and Joan Mir in 21st is precisely 1 second; Espargaro to Enea Bastianini in tenth is exactly two tenths of a second; Espargaro to Danilo Petrucci in fifteenth is half a second. If ever you needed an example of just how close the current era of MotoGP is, Friday at Aragon delivered.

Of course, Friday being Friday, it is a little early to be reading anything into the times. Especially at a track like Aragon, where the lap is 1'49 long. You don't get very many of them to the pound, as the saying has it, with riders doing 18 or 19 laps a session, rather than 22 or 23 laps at a track like the Red Bull Ring. Mess up a lap, or crash out, as Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia, and Iker Lecuona did, and you can lose a lot of track time. And that, in turn can mess up your plan for the day.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pole That Wasn't, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Aprilia's Auto-Adjuster

In the dying minutes of the Q2 session for MotoGP, it looked like we were witnessing a miracle. Jorge Martin flashed through the second sector nearly a second and a half up on the best time at that point. If he kept up that pace, he would be on his way to destroying the Silverstone pole record held by Marc Marquez, set on the newly resurfaced track back in 2019. Martin looked to be on his way to being the first rider to break the 1'58 barrier and lap the track in the 1'57s.

He lost a little ground in the third and fourth sectors, but as he flashed across the line, he left the MotoGP world speechless: a time of 1'58.008, 0.160 faster than Marquez' record from 2019. More impressively, it was nearly nine tenths faster than the 1'58.889 which had put Pol Espargaro on provisional pole, before the Pramac Ducati rider had so thoroughly demolished his time.

Could it be true? We waited for Race Direction to cancel Martin's time, but it stood for a very long time, until well after the checkered flag had been waved. The lap was too fast, but with little time to check, we had to believe that Jorge Martin once again pulled something exceptional out of the bag.

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Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Spielberg's Bad Vibes, A stiffer Front Tire, And Closer Second Races

The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit's propensity for generating drama off track. In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021. In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller's place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid. Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried. Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Bouncing off the limiter

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Styria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, Yamaha's Problems In Mixed Conditions, And Filling Empty MotoGP Seats

In an ideal world, MotoGP teams can use practice to prepare for the race on Sunday. Test tires in FP1, make setup changes in FP2, finalize the setting in FP3 and FP4, then into qualifying to be ready for the race. In an ideal world, conditions are comparable enough through all practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to find the optimal setup choices for Sunday.

But we don't live in an ideal world, of course. Temperature differences and changing conditions leave a lot to a mixture of experience and guesswork. Even then, as long as you have dry weather, you can get pretty close.

That is not the case this weekend in Spielberg, however. FP1 saw excellent conditions: warm, dry sunny. Not too hot, and temperatures not far off optimum for the tires. But rain started in the afternoon, and FP2 was wet, with a drying line as the session went on. Data collected in the morning would be useful for a dry race. Data in the afternoon is contingent on the amount of rain that falls in the case of a wet race, which looks a racing certainty.

Ready for anything?

A wet race would render the data collected on Saturday pretty much irrelevant as well. Saturday in Spielberg looks set very fair, bright, sunny and warm. But the forecast for Sunday is the worst of all worlds: thunderstorms, with a chance of heavy rain.

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It's Race Week - What To Expect After MotoGP's Long Summer Break

It's race week again. For both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, with the World Superbike series also making its debut at a new track, the Autodrom Most in the northwest corner of Czechia 55 km south of Dresden and 75km northwest of Prague, and which looks on paper to offer a nice, varied array of corners and challenges.

But WorldSBK at Most (be ready to be drowned in a tidal wave of superlative-based puns) comes after just a single weekend away, the production-based series having raced at Assen two weeks ago. MotoGP is back after its longest summer hiatus in recent memory, a whole five-week absence from racing.

Not that riders have been sitting on sun loungers working on their tans for all that period. Certainly, the first ten days or so were dedicated to taking a proper break, relaxing and getting away from it all. But since then, they have all been hard at work once again, training, riding bicycles and motorcycles, on circuits, on dirt track, at MX tracks.

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Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Viñales' Bombshell Aprilia Move, A Wide Open Rider Market, And Who Can Stop The Yamahas?

Saturday at Assen only deepened the enigma that is Maverick Viñales. After being fastest in both sessions of practice on Friday, the Monster Energy Yamaha man added FP3 to his belt in the morning, then finished second in FP4. That result was a little deceptive, however: he started FP4 on a used soft tire with 15 laps, nearly two thirds race distance, on it, and put nearly race distance on it, ending with a couple of 1'33.7s. For context, the race lap record at Assen is 1'33.617, set by Marc Márquez on lap 4 of the 2015 race. Viñales' second run was on a new medium tire, assessing tire choice for the race.

Seven days ago, Viñales was just twelfth fastest in FP4, and qualified in 21st. The contrast could not be greater with Assen. Here, he qualified on pole position, smashing the lap record and becoming the second rider to lap the Circuit van Drenthe in under 1'32, after teammate Fabio Quartararo posted a 1'31.922 in his first run during Q2. Both Monster Energy Yamaha riders ended with laps of 1'31.8, Quartararo posting three 1'31s to Viñales' two. But it was Viñales who was the quickest of the pair, taking pole with 1'31.814.

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